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Synthetic biology and the technicity of biofuels

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date06/2013
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal number2
Volume44
Number of pages9
Pages190-198
Early online date13/04/13
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The principal existing real-world application of synthetic biology is biofuels. Several ‘next generation biofuel’ companies—Synthetic Genomics, Amyris and Joule Unlimited Technologies—claim to be using synthetic biology to make biofuels. The irony of this is that highly advanced science and engineering serves the very mundane and familiar realm of transport. Despite their rather prosaic nature, biofuels could offer an interesting way to highlight the novelty of synthetic biology from several angles at once. Drawing on the French philosopher of technology and biology Gilbert Simondon, we can understand biofuels as technical objects whose genesis involves processes of concretisation that negotiate between heterogeneous geographical, biological, technical, scientific and commercial realities. Simondon’s notion of technicity, the degree of concretisation of a technical object, usefully conceptualises this relationality. Viewed in terms of technicity, we might understand better how technical entities, elements, and ensembles are coming into being in the name of synthetic biology. The broader argument here is that when we seek to identify the newness of disciplines, their newness might be less epistemic and more logistic.